PeytonManningDenver

Eagles defense looks for clues to slow down Peyton Manning in Denver…

After watching Peyton Manning and his multiple weapons on offense dismantle the Oakland Raiders on MNF, 37-21, you have to wonder how Bill Davis and Chip Kelly might try to disrupt the aging genius this Sunday.

It won't be easy. You may not like Jughead, but you have to admit he is a master mechanic at his position. He will begin studying the Eagles defense today as if he were applying for a Rhodes scholarship.

The Eagles (1-2) are allowing yards passing at an alarming rate. They've given up 1,021 yards in the air so far, an average of 340 per game. Only San Diego and Washington are worse.

With Manning and the Denver Broncos (3-0) up next, the defense has to sort out its issues quickly.

"It's a huge challenge," coach Chip Kelly said. "He's one of the all-time great quarterbacks in the history of the league, not just this season, he's done it for such a long time. He prides himself on his preparation. I think if you're a competitor, you're looking forward to it."

A revamped secondary that includes three new starters isn't the only problem. The front seven's inability to pressure quarterbacks consistently makes it difficult for the backfield to hold the coverage.

Eventually, a receiver comes open. And Peyton Manning is probably the best QB in the league at diagnosing what receiver and when…

"We have to shore up some things," Eagles CB Cary Williams said. "We have to go back to the drawing board, but we don't give up."

"We've got a lot of new players over there (on defense), new faces and a brand new scheme," Kelly said. "They're starting to get comfortable with it, but the one thing I've told them since we started, 'If you play with great effort, good things will happen to you.' I thought they did play with great effort (against the Chiefs). I thought they did a better job on some of those third-and-longs that we gave up.

"Again, I look at them in the fourth quarter, and I think a lot of it has to do with us offensively not doing our job and keeping them out there way too much."

A potent Eagles effort on offense which would keep the ball out of Manning's hands for as much time as possible might probably be their best hope for defensing the Broncos.

The plan in Kelly's frenetic attack is to run a significant number of offensive plays, but the offense hasn't lived up to its part. Since cramming 53 plays into the first half against Washington, the Eagles have run 145 plays in the last 10 quarters. As a result, time of possession has favored the opponents by a 2:1 margin the last two games.

But the defensive players won't point fingers. They expect to get off the field on their own.

"That doesn't matter how much we are on the field. Some of those times we kept ourselves on the field for longer than we should have," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We had them in third-and-long situations, we missed tackles and they made plays. "

"We dug ourselves in holes on some of those."

Getting some new defensive disguises or special pressure packages on Manning might help. But usually he has been thinking one step ahead of you. He almost always has an answer to your defensive wrinkle.

What we really need here is a "Poker Tell" guy who was released by the Broncos within the past 6 weeks and can give us an inside look at his new playbook. But alas, no such former Bronco exists on the Eagles roster.

Our friend Andy Furman at UltimateNYG.com emailed me a piece last night which celebrated the value of the "Poker Tell" on an NFL roster.

Apparently Chase Blackburn, the former Giant now with the Carolina Panthers, had a great deal to do with the Panthers' incredible dismantling of Eli Manning over the past weekend.

“I had an idea of what they run and what they like to do in situations,” Blackburn said. “We had a great game plan going in. I’ve been sharing all the information all week. Guys, all of us linebackers… were out there knowing what to do… (defensive backs) knew what kind of routes they were going to get off the route combinations."

Poker Tells can be huge. When they work, they can make good players average. You've got a guy in your defensive huddle tipping off plays as to runs and passes, and where they are going to go.

Getting a football team's reads is as old as the day is long.  In the Ice Bowl of 1967 (Dallas vs Green Bay), Dallas had the terrific Wide Receiver Bob Hayes.  How did Green Bay handle him?  In one conversation, the CB assigned to Hayes remarked (to the Safety) that Hayes only took his hands out of his pockets when the ball was coming to him.  The future Hall of Famer ended the day with 3 catches for 16 yards.

Antonio Pierce made a living in the NFL from voracious film study.  As a linebacker, he earned a pro bowl and a ring off of fabulous preparation during the week to gain an understanding of what formations led to what particular plays, pass/run reads etc.. When he left the Redskins and signed with the Giants as a free agent, the play of fellow LBer LaVar Arrington went down precipitously.  The following year, Arrington came over to the Giants to play with Pierce.  It was never stated definitively, but I believe Arrington wanted to play with Pierce because not only did AP make everyone better, he supplied his teammates with the extra edge of knowing what was coming in presnap and pregame preparation. Just as Arrington was starting to become a beast again (vs Dallas 2006), he tore his Achilles and was never the same.

According to Andy Furman, Blackburn was not the first former player to use a Poker Tell against the Giants.  Barry Cofield left the Giants to join the Redskins and helped his new team in his first game vs. Big Blue.  He tipped off rookie Ryan Kerrigan to a quick out pass before the play was snapped.  The rookie was supposed to get baited for an outside pass rush so that the DE was not in the passing lane.  Instead, Cofield told Kerrigan (well before the game) that when the signal was given, to take a few steps BACKWARD.  Kerrigan jumped up, deflected the ball into his own hands and ran 10 yards into the end zone for a pick 6. 

Furman ended his email with this observation: "I always lamented how Blackburn was a step too slow for the NFL, and how that cost the Giants.  Yet Coughlin talked about how important Blackburn was to the team on many occasions.  Read between the lines… as an understudy to Antonio Pierce, Blackburn learned how to watch film and pick up some (or as many?!) "poker tells" as A.P.  This made the other 10 defensive players on the field better during presnap reads.  It fits then that part of the Giants 2011 resurgence at the end of the year was after Blackburn got off the couch and into the film room.  Blackburn is probably two steps too slow, but if his "poker tells" made him 1 step too slow and made his TEN teammates an extra step faster, that was enough to help them on their way to XLVI.  And if you think I am overstating the significance of his arrival, think about this: Blackburn came back at Week 13, allowed the Giants to become competitive vs. the undefeated Packers in a 38-35 defeat, and thereafter the team went 7-1 and won the title."

Point made, Mr. Furman. To compete against savvy veteran QB's like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, you are going to need an extra advantage on defense beyond the physical. And if it's not an "imported" Poker Tell, you better be growing some of your own in the film room.

 

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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